At what age do children start grasping language?
Children, from the age of 10 months, start listening to what adults around them are saying and try reproducing speech. More often than not, this comes out as baby babble. But let this not fool you as their young minds are busy processing all the sounds. It is believed that by the age of 3, a child would be able to speak and converse in at least 1 language, the one she hears most often.
Another popular belief among experts is that kids' ability to grasp new languages begins to reduce as they approach adolescence.
How does this happen?
Children have a naturally curious mind which allows them to latch on to new things without thinking they're learning it. Their mind works out details such as words, sounds, grammar and sentence formation. Hence, their mind will grasp newer sounds and words easily.
How is learning multiple languages beneficial?
According to research conducted by Jürgen Meisel, a distinguished Fellow in the Language Research Centre at the Universty of Calgary, children who learn a second language early on develop cognitive skills better than their peers. They also excel at abilities such as problem-solving, spatial relations and creativity. Knowledge of a second language prompts flexibility in thinking and better communication skills too. Learning a second language at a young age develops a stronger capacity to absorb salient information, helping them to focus better, thus enhancing their memory, planning and multi-tasking abilities.
Should I be sending my child to language class?
A child from an average Indian household today hears at least 3 languages being spoken at home. First there is English, which is increasingly becoming the language of communication between spouses in urban India. Then there is the native language, or as we call it, the mother tongue. And lastly there is the local dialect or the language spoken by the house help. This number may increase if the parents come from different regional backgrounds. So while language class is a great idea, what's easier is to let your child hear and pick up the languages in her natural environment. Talk to your child in all the languages you know and she'll pick them up at rapid speed anyway.
What is the best way to teach languages to a child?
A child's brain is constantly receiving and processing information. It is imperative that you constantly converse with your little one. Let them hear sounds and then relate those sounds to the corresponding objects. Also, ensure they repeat what they hear. You could also arrange play-dates with other children, and encourage the children to interact with and speak to each other.
With older kids, talk with them about the happenings of the day, their favourite part and so on-in the language you want them to pick up. This is a good activity for those parents who are anxious about their child's English-speaking skills before they start playschool.
Any games, tools, etc. that could help?
Many experts including the American Speech-Language Hearing Association say that incorporating language into activity-based games, songs and everyday conversation is the best way to teach your child a new language. Simon Says is one of the most popular games used to educate children about new objects in different languages. Sing-along songs are also a popular method used by linguists. There are also several tools available online such as Karadi Tales videos in multiple languages, nursery rhymes in languages as diverse as Odiya and Kannada amongst others, and more. For the technologically-initiated children, there are flash cards developed by eflash apps that could be downloaded on your iPads in multiple languages.